NZ Rugby head of rugby operations Dan Tatham (centre) speaks with Tasman Rugby Union chief executive Tony Lewis(left) and Nelson Regional Development Agency chief executive Mark Rawson during a visit to Nelson this week.
Preparations for Nelson's first All Blacks test match have received a vote of confidence from NZ's top rugby administrators.
With 307 days until kickoff for the city's All Blacks debut against Argentina on September 8, an entourage of five New Zealand Rugby representatives paid a visit to Nelson this week to work on the finer points of planning for the event.
Led by NZ Rugby head of rugby operations Dan Tatham, the team met with Tasman Rugby Union chief executive Tony Lewis and Nelson Regional Development Agency chief executive Mark Rawson to discuss the next phase of planning.
With the Trafalgar Park test match officially announced in August, Tatham said Monday's meeting was aimed at building relationships with local organisers as well as establishing roles in delivering the event.
"We know that Tasman Rugby run fantastic events here with Super Rugby games and the like, so for us it's about getting a bit more into the detail with plenty of lead-in time," he said.
There were always some unknown factors to consider when bringing a test to a new city, Tatham said.
However, NZ Rugby had been impressed by Nelson's winning pitch to host the Rugby Championship fixture.
He was also encouraged by recently-announced measures to renew the Trafalgar Park turf in early 2018.
"It's good to have those conversations, just getting a sense of the venue and how the place might be set up and any particular nuances with this venue, because every venue is a little different.
"That's why we want to work closely with Tasman, because they know this place like the back of their hand – we know how to run test matches, they know the venue really well so that's where we come together to deliver."
Tatham said he was confident of a sellout crowd of 20,000 in 10 months time, which would bode well for any subsequent bid for All Blacks matches. A review process would take place after the Nelson test, followed by NZR's standard "allocation process" where provincial unions will be able to pitch for future tests.
"There's a balance for us around the financial side – you can't ignore that – but also there's trying to take the All Blacks around the country as well," Tatham said.
"We're not in England where we just play at Twickenham each week – the All Blacks are for the nation so it's good to be able to take games to the Nelsons, the Napiers and New Plymouths."
Lewis said there was a quiet determination to ensure next year's All Blacks debut was no flash in the pan for Nelson.
"From our perspective we're not just looking to put in for one test match, then pull up stumps and bugger off – we're here for the long term and we want to push this so we can get a regional facility that we can be proud of."
Rawson said the experience of Nelson hosting of an All Blacks test extended beyond the game from a visitor perspective but also increased the profile of the entire top of the south region.
"It's one of those things that says a regional city in New Zealand has all those things you can get in the big smoke but with a pretty unique lifestyle opportunity."
"Attraction of talent is one of our big challenges and next year we have the Black Caps, All Blacks, NZ hockey within the next couple of years and international netball as well."